#9) #HWC2018


Sport has a habit of producing special moments.

They can be very much personal – i.e. returning from injury or winning a maiden tournament – or they can be cultural, marking a major shift in perceptions.

It’s fair to say the 2018 Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup was special for both reasons.

In a slight change to the normal format, here are four reasons why #HWC2018 will go down in history as a game changer for women’s sport.

1) Irish eyes are beaming
You know you’ve done something remarkable when Mariah Carey and Conor McGregor are tweeting about you!

As sporting stories go, if what the Green Army achieved in London isn’t deemed worthy of a film script in the future then frankly nothing is.

Taking part in their first World Cup since 2002, the second lowest ranked team at the event stunned everyone by not just qualifying from a tough group but by going all the way to the final.

There was a fairytale-like feeling surrounding the team from their opening day victory over the US and that momentum continued to grow and grow. Victory over India secured their quarter-final status with a pool game to spare (which they lost to England), before they beat the same opponents on a shootout to reach the last four.

But their story wasn’t to end there though as they created national history by (apparently) becoming the first team to qualify for a World Cup final in any sport after another tense shootout victory over Spain.

What really stood out about their tournament though wasn’t necessarily how far they went but how they got there.

It was so difficult to pick a ‘Player of the Match’ for each game because they were all brilliant. Obviously there were the shootout heroes – Ayeisha McFerran, Chloe Watkins and Gillian Pinder – but collectively each player was fantastic in every match, epitomising a true team effort.

They may have lost to The Netherlands in the final but by then the tournament was already theirs. If #HWC2018 is remembered for anything, it will be Ireland.

2) Predictable unpredictability
If you thought the men’s football World Cup was full of surprises, that was nothing in comparison to the shocks thrown up in London.

Alongside Ireland’s unprecedented success, the tournament was full of upsets from the first afternoon right up until the last when the Spanish claimed their first ever World Cup medal by beating Australia – ranked several places above them – to secure bronze.

That came just days after they had knocked out a German side who looked imperious in the group stages, with many touting Die Danas as dark horses for the tournament until that loss.

Italy also wrote history in each of their group games, starting with achieving their maiden World Cup victory in their opening match against China before qualifying for the knockout round for the first time with a last gasp victory over Korea.

It wasn’t all positive though as they also created some unwanted history by being on the end of the largest ever World Cup defeat as the Dutch blitzed them 12-1. But considering it was their first World Cup since 1976 the fact they picked up any points at all was incredible!

Indeed the eventual champions were the only side who didn’t look like being on the receiving end of an upset – aside from being taken to a shootout in their semi-final in Australia – as they stormed their way to an eighth World Cup title.

3) Women’s hockey (and sport) became mainstream
It certainly was a weird sensation seeing hockey on both the home page of BBC Sport and main BBC websites.

But this became a fairly regular occurrence during #HWC2018 as the sport finally made the headlines it has deserved for a while.

Indeed, this tournament could well be the breakthrough event for women’s team sport in this country.

More than 120,000 tickets were sold for the 14 days of action, with the 10,500 seater stadium packed out for every England game, the semi-finals and final. Furthermore, viewing figures for certain fixtures on BT Sport were supposedly higher than they get for some of their mainstream men’s team events.

People cared about it. People wanted to watch it. People were interested in women’s sport.

Credit must go to BT for the fantastic job they did showcasing the tournament, despite the disappointment of some that it wasn’t on terrestrial TV. Their coverage was informative yet fun, patriotic yet celebratory of other nations and definitely inventive, with plenty of gadgets and gizmos.

Furthermore they had a fantastic array of inspirational women – Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh, Sam Quek, Crista Cullen and Mel Clewlow – presenting alongside Chris Hollins and Simon Mason who, along with the fantastic players on show, proved that hockey really can be for anyone and everyone.

A special mention must go to #ThePride too. Experiencing the roar of the fans in the crowd was enough to give anyone ‘goosies’ and to see all the love and support for the team on social media was incredible. They came, they saw and they certainly delivered!

4) Hometown heroines
They may not have hit the heights they were hoping for but, once again, England’s international stars have inspired a generation.

Yes the performances weren’t perfect but what was clear to see every time they played was the sheer amount of effort each player put in.

They literally left nothing out there in their quest for World Cup glory and showed that, whatever the odds, you should never give up on your dreams.

Seeing how distraught they were after losing to the Dutch was heart-breaking but they should also take pride in what they achieved and there are certainly plenty of positives moving forward. 

We must remember that this is a different squad from the one that won 2015 European gold and formed the backbone of the legendary GB squad that won the Rio Olympic final.

Instead there are now a host of young players right at the start of their careers who are bursting with potential. They still have plenty to learn but combined with a core group full of experience who will help them along their journey, I have no doubt they will become a fearsome side in the next few years.

It is a genuine privilege being able to work alongside not just the 18 who appeared at the World Cup, but every single member of the men’s and women’s squads and I have so much faith both will winning major medals medals on a regular basis in the near future.

And finally…
As Ireland proved, hockey is very much a team sport but a team cannot be formed without a host of talented individuals.

There were plenty of fine performances throughout #HWC2018 and several players can count themselves very unlucky to have not made this list but here is my 18-strong ‘Team of the Tournament’:

Goalkeepers: Rachel Lynch (AUS); Ayeisha McFerran (IRL)
Defenders: Rocio Gutierrez (ESP); Jodie Kenny (AUS); Elena Tice (IRL); Laura Unsworth (ENG); Zoe Wilson (IRL)
Midfielders: Eva de Goede (NED); Lily Owsley (ENG); Chiara Tiddi (ITA); Lucina von der Heyde (ARG); Chloe Watkins (IRL)
Attackers: Alex Danson (ENG); Rosie Malone (AUS); Charlotte Stapenhorst (GER); Eugenia Trinchinetti (ARG); Kitty van Male (NED); Lidewij Welten (NED)

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